Haworth updates City Council on school finances

Tribune-Star/Austen Leake Where we stand: Vigo County School Corp. Superintendent Rob Haworth talks to the Terre Haute City Council about the financial standing of the district during Thursday's meeting.

If the Vigo County School Corp. did nothing in response to its declining cash balance, it would be in the red by January 2021, Superintendent Rob Haworth told the Terre Haute City Council in a presentation Thursday.

“We will not allow that to happen,” he said, as part of a presentation he has delivered many times in explaining the district’s plan to address its financial challenges. That plan calls for $4 million in budget cuts as well as a $7 million operating referendum that will be on the ballot this fall.

The council invited him to make the presentation, Haworth said afterward. “My hope is we can continue this type of collaboration, sharing of information and sharing of projects, as we move forward.”

If approved by voters, the referendum would increase property taxes for operating expenses by an estimated $7 million per year for eight years.

A successful referendum, along with $4 million in cuts, would “bring the budget into balance and maintain a 10 percent cash balance based upon the education, rainy day and operational funds,” he stated.

The referendum would help support increased staffing in safety, health and wellness, and it also would help address teacher compensation issues.

He outlined how referendum funds would be spent:

• Safety: $1.4 million for school protection officers. Every school has at least one SPO, with larger schools having more. In 2012, there were just eight.

• Health: $260,000 for increased nursing staff, which has doubled from five to 10 since 2015.

• Counselors: $588,000 for counselors; the number of counselors has increased by 40 percent since 2014.

• Behavior interventionists: $300,000, with 18 interventionists added since 2015.

• $3 million for teacher compensation, to improve starting salaries — which are not competitive — and to recognize years of service for experienced teachers who are new to the district.

• $1 million for transportation. Currently, because of tax caps, the general fund must be used to subsidize transportation. It will help maintain field trips and transportation for extracurricular activities.

While he did not get into specifics related to cuts, Haworth did outline some overall strategies, which could include public-private partnerships.

For example, he said, “Would the school district lease space to a for-profit day care center in our buildings to help them reduce their costs and help provide a need for our community?”

Another possibility might be for a nonprofit group serving young people to move into district space.

Other strategies he outlined to reduce costs include managing staffing levels, looking at procurement practices and leveraging technology.

Council president Martha Crossen asked Haworth to clarify if the property tax operating referendum was the “only tool” available for the district to raise funds for the purposes outlined.

According to Haworth, “The only way to increase revenue through taxes is through property taxes. There are no other taxing solutions” for the district.

Council member Karrum Nasser praised Haworth for being available to make the presentations to community groups and the public.

He asked about budget cuts and what would be affected; he asked if arts and sports might be impacted.

Haworth did not go into specifics, and indicated community meetings will be conducted to seek feedback on those cuts. But he did say initially it would look at those areas funded that are outside the K-12 mission, and then it would look to internal efficiencies.

Haworth said he didn’t see cuts impacting arts or athletics.

Council member Earl Elliott asked about the cost of the virtual school, which Haworth said would be $174,000 over a two-year period.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

Sue Loughlin has been a reporter at the Tribune-Star for more than 30 years. She covers general news with a focus on education.